Resurrecting An Idea…

Last Christmas, I did a week-long series of posts exploring the topic of religion in general and my atheism specifically.

One of my posts was about how, even though believers will give dozens of reasons why they are religious, from my perspective there were three main reasons I thought people actually were religious – whether the believer acknowledges them or not.

They were:
Conformity – the biggest reason people is religious is that we end up following the religion of the people around us, most likely our parents or occasionally our spouses
Comfort – religion has become the most prevalent method that humanity has come up with for helping us deal with the big questions – life, death, morals, etc.
Community – following a religion is one of the quickest ways to find a like-minded “tribe” who share a common purpose and outlook.

I received some positive feedback and some negative feedback on the posts I did.  I don’t spend a lot of time looking at my blog stats most of the time but will admit that I watched them a bit more closely after those posts, perhaps irrationally thinking that I would piss off everybody who reads this blog and there would be a mass exodus (er, great word, eh?) and I’d end up back to where I was in the month after I started this blog back in 2006 – writing for a handful of people at most.

That worry was unfounded (I need to give my readers – religious and otherwise – a lot more credit.  Or I need to be less paranoid!) and my hits stayed pretty level.  So I didn’t think much more of those posts until a month or two later when I got an e-mail from a long time reader who told me she was going to take a break from my blog.

It had been a throw-away atheist-related crack in a completely non-atheist themed post that had triggered her e-mail but obviously a lot of the decision came from that series of posts back in December.  She felt frustrated with my lack of openness to alternate viewpoints (ironically, what I often accuse believers of.)

On that point, all I can say is guilty as charged as I will explain below.   We exchanged a couple of respectful e-mails but I decided that probably wasn’t a very useful exercise as neither of us were likely going to change our positions.  I thanked her for sharing her concerns and told her that I know when I gain readers and can often easily figure out why – because I get linked to from a high-traffic site or one of my posts get shared on a social networking site or whatever.  But I rarely know what causes people stop reading my blog.

So since the idea that led to this feedback was “born” at Christmas, I thought it only fitting that I “resurrect” the subject at Easter.

Now on that charge of not being open to alternate viewpoints, I’ve been struggling to find a good analogy to explain why I’m not more open to the possibility that there could still be a god (or whatever) and why I made the move from calling myself agnostic to atheist.

For me, I think that sometimes there are just topics where, after careful consideration and weighing different viewpoints, you decide something is right or correct and that’s all there is to it with only the most miniscule chance that you would change your mind (although I strongly believe that you should always allow for that possibility.  Otherwise, you’re just being dogmatic.  For example, many atheists use the example that if there was a documented, proven miracle on the scale of the spontaneous re-generation of an amputated limb, they would reconsider.)

It’s not a perfect analogy for why I’m not more open to the possibility of a higher power or more sympathetic to religious viewpoints but I think that there are similarities to the ongoing progression of humanity with regards to various other beliefs that used to be taken as gospel truth (pun intended) – that blacks were inferior, that women were property, that homosexuals were evil.

Obviously, not all religious belief has those negative connotations that those things did and do.  But then again, a century or two ago, slavery and homophobia didn’t seem so bad either.  I wouldn’t be surprised if, in one hundred years, many of the current practices of religion – from the seemingly harmless (or even beneficial) like international missions to the obscene such as various churches’ opposition to abortion, birth control, etc. – are looked at in the same way we now look at slavery, racism, sexism, etc.  These things still exist of course but every generation seems to improve slightly.

Of course putting it that way, it makes it sound like I’m saying I’m some more highly evolved being, just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with my brilliant insights into how it *really* is.

That’s not true – well, at least I hope it isn’t but a blog post on arrogance, ego and self-awareness would be a fun one to tackle some day.

But I do think that it’s really hard for the believer to overcome all of the benefits – real and perceived – of being a believer to make the leap to atheism.  As I documented at Christmas, I had a big head start – non-religious parents, a really good friend who embodied the phrase “playing the devil’s advocate” when he was all of eight years old, a love of books and reading including science fiction and/or any book you “weren’t supposed to read” – all of which are great for making you a critical thinker.

Again, I feel like I’ve put my foot in it.  So to clarify, I am not trying to say that believers aren’t critical thinkers.  I know many religious people who are doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, university professors, nurses, librarians, even priests and ministers – all people who have tons of education and highly developed critical thinking skills (much beyond my abilities in that area in all honesty).  But I do think that believers also have a gi-normous blind spot when it comes to the question of faith.  (It may not even be their choice.  Recent research indicates that ironically, it was evolution which has given humans a propensity to believe in a higher power as a survival mechanism!)

So anyhow, that’s all a long, rambling way to say that because of some of the feedback I received and some further thought I’ve given to my initial list, I’ve decided to add a couple more C’s to my list of “The Real Reasons People Are Religious”:

Comprehension – humans have evolved to work with human-sized scale.  We think in terms of about one hundred years or so, distances of miles, heights of six to ten feet and so on.  Modern developments have expanded our reach and we can comprehend, say, the distance from Regina to Vancouver better than our grandparents could.  But there is so much in our cosmos that is simply beyond most people’s comprehension – the scale of geologic time, the span of galaxies that I think many people, in the face of such overwhelmingness, almost default to a position of “wow, there can’t be any other explanation except god (or whatever you want to call that higher power.)”

Convenience – some of these categories cover some of the same territory and just as I said in my initial post that Comfort & Community overlapped somewhat, I think Convenience covers some of the same ground as Community.  Being a member of a religion is convenient – it gives you a ready-made community, it gives you a sets of morals (or at least some guidance in that area), it gives you assistance with tough times like illness, death, divorce, etc.  But the convenience goes beyond those things.  Perhaps the most basic is that it can give the believer an easy “out” for all manner of areas and questions.  Religion is convenient because it can provide the ultimate justification for everything from a basic refusal to acknowledge evidence to more serious matters as justifying racism, sexism, murder and other types of mis-treatment.

One final caveat and then I’ll stop.  As I said in one of my replies to a comment in one of my original Christmas posts, my intention with these posts on religion and atheism isn’t to offend anyone but to put out some of my own thoughts and theories.  Yes, I hope that someone who’s religious might read what I’ve written and be swayed but there are others who make these arguments much better than I.  Ultimately, these posts are written as much for myself as for anyone who may read them.

So thanks for indulging me!   I will also resist the urge to make a joke about how we decided to have lamb for our Easter supper as it seemed appropriate.  Crap – too late! 😉


Comments 2

  1. John wrote:

    Okay, I’ll bite, again, but only once, unless prodded. I have still have Dawkins on my reading list for this year, just because I think I owe one such book a read. It just keeps getting bumped by better books, like the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu religious classic I also always meant to read and finally got around to. It reminds me of my real reasons for “religion” but I use the word in completely different way than you do. You use the word to refer to a “guy in the sky” child-like religion. Some adults do think of it that way, but many of let that go as children.

    For me, religion comes from the same impulse that Dawkins is on my reading list, a need to inspect our blind spots, my incompleteness, a unusual persistence in coming to terms with reality, finding a home in the universe. This need is often triggered by life experiences that fracture life’s human-scale view. It is a drive that takes a person out of the usual path. It is inconvenient, incomprehensible, isolating, uncomfortable, and non-conformist. In short, something other than all of your explanations, old and new. Look forward to your reply.

    Posted 25 Apr 2011 at 6:27 am
  2. HeadTale wrote:

    Hey John,

    I realise there are all sorts of shades of what encompasses “religion” – I guess the reason I focus on the “guy in the sky” type of religion is because that makes up such a large percentage of religious belief in our society. I know some people give up or at least modify that belief up as they get older. But I think the vast majority still, on some level, believe what they’ve been told as kids.

    I read your definition of why you have “religion” in your life with great interest though – I bet many atheist scientists would say almost exactly the same thing about what drives them!

    Posted 08 May 2011 at 1:39 pm

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  1. From Head Tale - #JeSuisCharlie (And Some Tangents About Language, The Nature of Offense and the Unintended Consequences of Trigger Warnings) on 07 Jan 2015 at 10:59 pm

    […] stupid idiots like many atheists content; the religious simply allow themselves to have a *very* big blind spot about the real reasons religion appeals to them. I even gave a name to my theory – “The 5 C’s of Religious Belief: Conformity, […]

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